Turning your Pinto into a Porsche: The Mechanics of Editing

Writers frequently ask me what editors do, how much editing costs, and if they really need an editor. My answer: “It depends on whether you have a Pinto or a Porsche.” Let me explain.

Manuscripts are like cars; both need “repairs.” A manuscript may only need an editor to proofread, checking for simple grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization errors ? what I refer to as the “jiffy lube” or oil change ? no major surprises. Some manuscripts may need more in-depth editing, or copyediting. In addition to proofreading, this process highlights words and phrases that are repetitive and ineffective, revises sentence structure, and looks for glaring inconsistencies, making the story read more smoothly. This is like a “tune-up,” replacing worn or overused parts and cleaning clogged lines, helping the vehicle run more smoothly. The third, most thorough type of editing ? line-by-line or substantive editing ? involves major revisions in a manuscript, reorganizing, and often rewriting chapters. This, you might guess, is like a car needing a new transmission or engine overhaul.

Depending on which service is performed will determine what price is warranted. Obviously, proofreading (jiffy lube) is less time-consuming than copyediting (tune-up), which is less involved than line-by-line editing (engine overhaul). Costs, then, are reflected in the amount of time and effort needed, like “parts and labor” on your body shop’s invoice.

This brings up a good point. Auto mechanics charge for parts and labor. But how does an editor determine pricing? Some editors charge by the hour; “labor,” if you will. I wonder, though, if I get up for a cup of coffee or take a phone call, do I deduct fifteen minutes from the hourly charge? Do I take a lunch hour? Do I charge overtime if I edit for more than eight hours a day?

Some editors price by the page, but page count can vary by font size, margin size, line spacing. Does a page with only a few sentences on it get charged as a page? Does a page with photos or illustrations count as much as a full page of text? I can see confusion and arguments just around the corner.

I base my pricing on word count. A manuscript of 60,000 words is just what it is: no confusion, no argument, no problem. The price doesn’t change if I take ten hours or ten days, nor does it matter if the words are squeezed into one hundred pages or spread out over two hundred. The price varies only by the number of words. Simple.

Convincing writers that they need an editor is not so simple. Computers have program tools to check spelling and grammar and Aunt Martha (a former English teacher) is more than happy to read and critique the great American novel. So why do they need me?

Hold that thought.

Let’s say you want to sell your car. Before you put it in the classified ads, you’ll probably take it to the mechanic to change the oil, replace the belts, clean the engine. Hopefully, you’ll take it to the car wash, and maybe have it painted, too. In essence, you’ll make sure it looks good enough to attract a buyer.

Selling your manuscript requires the same attention to detail. Editors will catch errors, correct problems, and format your document for submission, knowing that publishers will not invest in manuscripts that need lots of work. They will clean and polish your writing to attract the attention of publishers. They want your Pinto to hum and purr like a Porsche.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Jami Carpenter currently works as a ghostwriter and freelance editor for two publishing houses and independent writers. Jami is also co-author and editor of Education in the Neon Shadow; The First Fifty Years of the Clark County School District. You can contact her via email at jamicarpenter@yahoo.com or phone at 702.768.5949 or visit her website for more information at www.redpengirl.com.

Photo courtesy of Michael Stucker, Racing Photography. Used with permission.